The former national manager of the Jockeys' Guild, ousted in 2001 in what he said was akin to a "terrorist attack," believes disabled riders are the real victims in the ongoing conflict over finances and the impending discontinuance of the Disabled Jockeys' Fund. He called on jockeys to take control of the situation.
John Giovanni, who ran the Guild for about 20 years, said he doesn't understand why Guild members can't gain access to financial records. He said such information was readily available upon request when he ran the operation, which was based in Lexington but now is headquartered in Southern California.
"I really take exception to the fact they won't give audited statements to jockeys," Giovanni said during the Nov. 23 edition of "At the Races & Beyond," a radio talk show hosted by former trainer J.J. Graci on WNN-AM in Pompano Beach, Fla. "It's (the jockeys') money. It's their organization. ... If one person wants an audited statement, they should have it.
"It just blows me away. I don't understand how (the members) put up with it. They wouldn't have put up with it from me for five minutes. The executive committee has a responsibility to the membership to be prudent with the money and act in a responsible manner."
Giovanni, who filed a lawsuit over his ouster, said he was accused of stealing money from the Guild and of abusing its expense account. He said he met with current Guild chief executive officer Dr. Wayne Gertmenian after a forensic audit was performed and was told no money was missing.
Giovanni was active in establishing the Disabled Jockeys' Fund, which, according to its Internal Revenue Service Form 990 for 2003, will be terminated at the end of 2004. A note on the form states: "All monies currently in the fund are being spent on the funds' charitable purpose. No additional funds are being solicited."
The fund's balance at the end of 2001 was more than $1.3 million. At the beginning of 2003, the balance was about $440,000. At the end of last year, it stood at $105,000. Revenue for 2003 was $68,000, while $371,000 was paid in "program services," the IRS form states.
Giovanni said the Disabled Jockeys' Fund always was able to meet requests from riders for money. The fund was established to support permanently disabled riders, not those who are on the sidelines temporarily. Money for those causes would come directly from the Guild.
"The people I feel badly for are the disabled members," Giovanni said. "They had no say in (termination of the fund). You want to talk about victims? They are the victims."
Under the leadership of Gertmenian, the Guild formed the Disabled Jockeys' Endowment, which at the end of 2003 had a balance of $745,000, according to IRS Form 990. Guild treasurer Ray Sibille said the endowment fund currently has a balance of more than $1 million.
During a national insurance meeting in December 2002 in Tucson, Ariz., Guild chairman Tomey Jean Swan said the endowment fund was started with $600,000 in seed money but needed $10 million to maintain programs. She called on the racing industry to support it.
"This crisis is about to escalate," Swan said during the meeting. "Our industry must find the balance of the principal immediately."
The Guild's plan apparently is to build the endowment fund and then use the interest to support programs.
Ron Turcotte, who rode Triple Crown champion Secretariat and was permanently disabled in 1978, has been a contributor to the Disabled Jockeys' Fund. He indicated he supports a freeze on the endowment to ensure disabled riders have access to funds.
When asked if the Guild planned to take any action on the Disabled Jockeys' Fund during its annual assembly Dec. 6-7 in Irving, Texas, Gary Donahue, co-chairman of the fund, told The Blood-Horse
: "That's the $64,000 question. I've never been informed this was their intention. If the fund is terminated, what happens to the riders?"
As for his ouster, Giovanni said he has his staff were quickly removed and their office shuttered after a June 15, 2001 teleconference of the executive committee. "It was like a terrorist attack," he said.
Though the bylaws called for a unanimous vote, the resolution to hire Gertmenian's Matrix Capital Associates was signed by only five of nine members of the executive committee. The last one to sign it was Dean Kutz, who at the time was ill with cancer and passed away this year.
"Everybody seems to think there was a general consensus I should be moved out," Giovanni said. "If it was a unanimous vote, why did they have to bother to get Dean Kutz to sign an affidavit?"
In July 2001, The Blood-Horse
reported the circumstances surrounding the teleconference but was unable to obtain confirmation as to why the regime change was deemed necessary, and why it happened so quickly. Jockeys Jerry Bailey and Tony Black, then members of the executive committee who didn't sign the resolution to bring in Matrix, described the teleconference and subsequent vote as a "well-orchestrated takeover."